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Workforce Laws Aren’t Meeting the Needs of Workers

By Jim Douglas

Monday, September 9, 2013

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As part of its Common Ground project, BPC commended Indiana Governor Mike Pence and the Indiana state legislature for passage of legislation to reform the state’s workforce programs. The Governors’ Council joins BPC in commending the governor’s efforts.

There are 47 federal programs with workforce development focus, administered by nine federal agencies within the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education. As of 2009, the programs were:

Department of Labor
Community-Based Job Training Grants
Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program
Employment Service/Wagner-Peyser Funded Activities
H-1B Job Training Grants
Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Project
Job Corps
Local Veterans’ Employment Representative Program
National Farmworker Jobs Program
Native American Employment and Training
Registered Apprenticeship and Other Training
Reintegration of Ex-Offenders
Senior Community Service Employment Program
Trade Adjustment Assistance
Transition Assistance Program
Veterans’ Workforce Investment Program
WIA Adult Program
WIA Youth Activities
WIA Dislocated Workers
WIA National Emergency Grants

Department of Interior
Conservation Activities by Youth Service Organization
Indian Employment Assistance
Indian Vocational Training – United Tribes Technical College

Department of Education
American Indian Vocational Rehabilitation Services
Career and Technical Education – Basic Grants to States
Career and Technical Education – Indian Set-aside
Grants to States for Workplace and Community Transition Training for Incarcerated Individuals
Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers Program
Native Hawaiian Career and Technical Education
Projects with Industry
Rehabilitation Services – Vocational Rehabilitation Grants to States
State-Supported Employment Services Program
Tech-Prep Education
Tribally Controlled Postsecondary Career and Technical Institutions

Department of Defense
National Guard Youth Challenge Program

Environmental Protection Agency
Brownfield Job Training Cooperative Agreements

Department of Justice
Second Chance Act Prisoner Reentry Initiative

Department of Veterans Affairs
Vocational Rehabilitation for Disabled Veterans

Department of Agriculture
SNAP Employment and Training Program

Department of Health and Human Services
Community Services Block Grant
Refugee and Entrant Assistance – Voluntary Agency Matching Program
Refugee and Entrant Assistance – Targeted Assistance Grants
Refugee and Entrant Assistance – Social Services Program
Refugee and Entrant Assistance – Targeted Assistance Discretionary Program
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
Tribal Work Grantsii

The federal government spends over $18 billion each year on these programs.

Why – despite the existence of all of this infrastructure and funding – did Indiana’s policy-makers feel they needed a new state program? The answer: Because these 47 federal programs and $18 billion are not getting people back to work.

The primary mechanism for delivery of federal assistance to unemployed, low income and dislocated workers is the one-stop system created by the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). Enacted in 1998, WIA’s states that:

  • training and employment programs must be designed and managed at the local level where the needs of businesses and individuals are best understood;
  • customers must be able to conveniently access the employment, education, training and information services they need at a single location in their neighborhoods;
  • customers should have choices in deciding the training program that best fits their needs and the organizations that will provide that service. They should have control over their own career development;
  • customers have a right to information about how well training providers succeed in preparing people for jobs. Training providers will provide information on their success rates; and
  • business will provide information, leadership and play an active role in ensuring that the system prepares people for current and future jobs.iii

WIA’s “one-stop centers” as the key access point for a range of services that help unemployed, low income and dislocated workers re-enter the workforce or improve their skills, including:

  • a preliminary assessment of their skill levels, aptitudes, abilities and support service needs;
  • information on a full array of employment-related services, including information about local education and training service providers;
  • help filing claims for unemployment insurance and evaluating eligibility for job training and education programs or student financial aid;
  • job search and placement assistance, and receive career counseling; and
  • access to up-to-date labor market information which identifies job vacancies, skills necessary for in-demand jobs, and provides information about local, regional and national employment trends.

Under WIA, most job-seekers are afforded the opportunity to self-identify the training programs in which they would like to participate. However, as noted in 2011 testimony by the Government Accountability Office, “Only a small proportion of job seekers who receive services at one-stops are reflected in WIA outcome data. While customers who use self-services are estimated to be the largest portion of those served under WIA, job seekers who receive self-service or informational services are specifically excluded from performance calculations by the statute.”iv

A wide range of reports and analysis shows that we do not know if workers accessing employment and job training services are receiving services that result in long-term, sustainable employment. In fact, no rigorous evaluation of WIA, the one-stop system for many of the programs identified by the GAO, has occurred to see whether the services provided make a difference in either the employment or earnings of workers seeking help. Therefore, is it any wonder that there is growing belief that these programs are not meeting their intended goals and do not work?

Last year, BPC conducted a survey of thought-leaders in workforce development and education on whether workforce system reforms were needed and if so, on what aspects. Universally, everyone expressed that changes were needed and that, for the most part, the federal-state-local system created in the Workforce Investment Act was unduly burdensome and unable to meet today’s workforce needs. Finally, significant duplication among the federal programs exists, including similar goals and objectives, creation of multiple service delivery systems and administrative overlap, and elimination of those redundancies would save considerable funds that could be targeted toward programs that work or deficit reduction.

BPC’s Governors Council is currently assessing existing workforce programs and will soon propose a new national framework to guide the creation of new workforce laws that meet the needs of new and current workers by ensuring education and training is better aligned to the skills and competencies needed in the marketplace. The council hopes to provide a roadmap for moving forward this national conversation and jump-start comprehensive reform efforts.

iGAO Testimony Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, Committee on Appropriations, House of Reps. Andrew Sherrill April 7, 2011 page 3.

iiIbid, page 18.


ivGAO, page 14.

2013-09-09 00:00:00
The federal government spends over $18 billion each year on 47 workforce development programs